Right chaps, today’s post starts with me getting something off my chest, out in the open and laid bare for you all to see.
I simply can’t hold it back anymore…I have an admission to make.
I love San Francisco.
I do. I really really do. I heart it in all it’s blue-skied, green-grassed, natural-and-man-made glory.
When we put it on the roadtrip list, I thought I’d like it. I thought ‘hey yeah, San Fran looks pretty cool and sunshiney and pretty…woo hoo!’
Psssh, what did I know? Those words are pale and insipid compared to the compliments this city should be getting.
It’s gorgeous. It’s clean. It’s friendly. It’s full of happy, healthy, glowing, outdoorsy people but it also has libraries, museums & galleries for those who prefer to work up a sweat by the turning of pages or the viewing of world class exhibits.
You can eat pretty much anything you crave from a global menu of deliciousness; you can blend in with the locals at any number of coffee houses & cafes; you can string your camera round your neck and proudly proclaim your tourist proclivities at the wharf, the parks and the piers. You can get your photo taken with Yoda for heaven’s sake. Oh SF, you slay me.
There are 2 things I’ve learnt on this stretch of the trip so far; the first is that driving into a city like San Francisco is an experience I’ll never forget. Hills. I’m talking hills. I’m talking steep fricking hills. I’m talking feeling like all that excess luggage in the boot was gonna come back to bit me on the ass as it tipped the car backwards.
Steve McQueen may have driven the same streets as me but frankly the comparisons end there. I was more like the old gal from Ferris Bueller…
The second thing I’ve learnt is that 25’000 steps equates to approximately 12.5 miles. Did you know that? No? Me neither. Not until J and I walked round each day to the tune of this mighty number. If it sounds epic, let me confirm to you that it is, in fact, epic. That said, there’s no better way to see a city and the public transport that we also sampled here is so cheap it seemed pointless to drive at all.
Word of caution though – cheap it may be, reliable it is not. Give yourself plenty of time to get wherever you’re headed and if you should find yourself slightly lost & very confused on a street you’ve already circumnavigated three times, feet throbbing, tummy growling and on the verge of sitting on the pavement to have a toddler-worthy meltdown, relax in the knowledge that someone has already had this very experience and survived….I couldn’t possibly say who, just ‘someone’.
What you do need at the end of an amazing day of exploring though is good food and cold beverages and luckily, you’ll never be too far from either in the city by the bay. Google ‘healthy restaurants in San Francisco’ and watch 15m+ results instantly appear. In the past few years, the city has topped nationwide polls of the happiest, healthiest and fittest cities in America. The words ‘organic’, ‘vegan’ and ‘sustainable’ are a part of everyday culture – there’s even a yoga room in the airport for those who want to release a little pressure before sitting in the same position in a decidedly less Zen Buddhist style for 10 hours.
Our home-from-home here was one block across from Chestnut St, a vibrant, sophisticated, energetic, cool area packed with shops, cafes, bars, bakeries & restaurants. Immediately feeling at home here, this was the kind of place that you could imagine being YOUR neighbourhood and falling a little more in love with everyday.
Pacific Catch on Chestnut is ranked #10 out of nearly 5000 SF restaurants and is the original branch of a small but excellent fresh fish restaurant chain which started 11 years ago by entrepreneurs Keith Cox and Aaron Noveshen, who shared between them a wealth of food and business experience. Dedicated to creating & producing delicious food and to becoming an integral part of their local communities, Pacific Catch bills itself as a ‘West Coast Fish House Defining the Tastes of the Pacific.’ That’s a great tagline but honestly, they could save themselves 4 words and just put this above their doors – ‘Awesome Atmosphere. Superb Food. Wonderful Service’.
The place was packed outside and getting the same way indoors but luckily an incredibly friendly, welcoming member of staff found us two seats at the bar from where we could watch the food being prepared and try not to drool over the menu. Only one of those was successful…
What I loved about this place was that it felt like a real local secret. It felt like somewhere that people in the neighbourhood would go to when they a) couldn’t be bothered to cook, b) wanted somewhere great to take out-of-town friends to or c) simply craved the quality & experience that they knew they could have here. I felt those things because they’re all the things I would feel were I lucky enough to be a Chestnut St dweller.
Anchor Steam Pale Ale was quickly selected, noted as a good choice by the insanely knowledgeable manager – honestly, this woman knew everything about everything on the menu which shows a real passion for the product and brand she represents – and, when it arrived in the coldest of glasses, quickly helped the enjoyable exhaustion of the day ebb away.
I’m not one of the world’s great beer drinkers but sometimes wine is too heavy, sharp or sweet to really do the job of quenching your thirst and relaxing your soul. That’s where beer comes in and this pale ale with its rich but light flavour accomplished both of those goals, disappearing in a few thankful gulps. Washing down a basket of crispy sweet potato fries served with sweet chilli sauce and ginger & wasabi aoili, this was the best way to end the day and start the evening.
The menu was varied and full of both familiar and new-to-me dishes that made it incredibly hard to pick just one. Thai Coconut Shrimp was a contender as were the Baja tacos when I spied the man next us greedily eating them without offering me a single bit. Hmph. Rude much?
The Pan-Asian rice bowls were the winners for both us here though – J taking on the Korean Barbecue which had spring onions, seasoned cucumber, shredded omelette, daikon sprouts, shredded nori & Korean BBQ sauce which he topped with salmon and I the Hawaiian Teriyaki also with salmon sitting on grilled pineapple, glazed carrots, edamame beans, crispy sweet onions, sesame seeds & teriyaki sauce.
We both opted for the half rice-half greens option and watched with hungry eyes as the chefs in front of us prepared everything with the utmost care & precision; it was the tastiest-looking, so-smooth-it-runs-like-clockwork team effort I’ve seen in a long time. Each chef was handling multiple tasks simultaneously making it all the more impressive when plate after basket after platter after bowl was sent out, steaming, fragrant and vivid with colour & texture.
To say I am now a convert to rice bowls is like saying Beyonce’s an alright dancer – it’s a ridiculous understatement of gargantuan proportions. I can see every other meal at home now being rice & greens thrown into a bowl and topped with whatever is in the fridge. They were amazing. The salmon was soft and flaked apart at the lightest touch – it was also a very generous portion which makes a refreshing change from ‘healthy options’ that list a dozen ingredients but then bulk it up with nothing but lettuce. One blueberry, a solitary pecan or a lonely chunk of blue cheese does not mean these things should be listed as plural on the dish description, are you hearing me restaurateurs of the world?
The rice & greens were the perfect mix of making the dish light, healthy and filling with the vegetables crunchy, the pineapple charred & juicy and the crispy onions so moreish I could’ve had a side of these bad boys on their own. Salty and sweet from the ample but not overpowering teriyaki dressing, this meal was exactly what I wanted without even knowing it was exactly what I wanted. Kudos to a place that can deliver what the customer wants when they themselves have no idea.
Much in the same way that our evening in Carmel will stay with my forever, so will this night. It wasn’t just that the food was so damn good or that the staff were so genuine or that the place had bags of charm & personality – all of those things played their part but it was all them together at the end of a brilliant day along with the company of J who made me smile, laugh & enjoy myself even more than I thought possible that made it so memorable. The place encourages you to come in, to relax, to have a beer and to just sit back and let them take care of you and lord knows, I wish I lived close enough to let them do that again and again and again.